Survivor draws on personal experience to help others

The Report: February / March 2000 vol.21 num.1


Shes worked the ugliest job at the pulp mill. She was the second-everfemale ice-maker in BC. Shes survived abuse, learned her rights, and won a case onappeal for a 25-year-old sexual assault.

Andrea Hill
Victoria Women's Transition Society

She can fix your plumbing. Or your lights. Or help you with yourcomputer. She can even interpret using sign language if youre deaf or hard ofhearing.

And on top of all that ... she can dance.

Andrea Hill has compelling reasons for having chosen to work atVictoria Transition House. "I have dealt with abusive relationships in my own past,and felt called to work in this field," she said. "I am interested in supportingand encouraging womens personal growth and development. I am the housekeeper at myworkplace, and while this is not the most glamourous job on the site, I feel that I amable to contribute to the terrific environment we provide."

She says she now wishes she had gone to a transition house for helpwhen she needed it. "I probably would have gotten out [of the relationship] soonerand made some wiser choices, had I had the kind of guidance they offer. Our house is veryprogressive, inclusive, and cooperative," she said. "Its really a greatplace to work."

Even on her days off, Hill continues to contribute to her community. Inaddition to volunteering with both the Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre and theBridges for Women Project, she is involved with various other womens and socialjustice organizations.

Hill decided to take up sign language as a result of her experiences atthe Gay Games in Amsterdam two summers ago. Hill laughs as she describes how she foundherself in the ballroom dance competition, in the "Beginners Combi"division.

"I had been in a beginners ballroom dance class. One woman... who was in a wheelchair ... approached me and asked if I would considerpartnering her at the Gay Games," she said.

"We had seven months of practice together. We couldnt findany information for what was called the ‘Combi class; its one standing,one in a wheelchair. So we just took basic ballroom and Latin dance steps and adapted themto work with a wheelchair. We had several obstacles to overcome, including the fact thatwe didnt know how to ballroom and Latin dance! We had financial difficulties; wecouldnt get government sponsorship, so we held a fundraiser benefit."

The dancers worked hard to get to Amsterdam, but once there, they facedfurther challenges. "My partner, who is deaf, had been assured that there would besign language interpreters for her, and that everything would be wheelchair accessible.When we got to the school we were staying in, the showers werent accessible! We werepleased that the dance hall had accessible showers, or it would have been a really longweek."

Then they had trouble arranging for sign language interpreters."We had many, many problems. She could lip-read me okay, because we had been workingtogether for so long. But many times, we had peoples attitudes to deal with,"she said.

"We were signed up for a really wonderful workshop put on by twoprofessional dancers, and when I asked where the interpreter was, we were told my partnerdoesnt need to hear anything, she can just watch. And thats the main reasonthat Im a sign language student now."

Despite the obstacles, Hill and her partner brought home two bronzemedals. Hill is modest about their winnings. "It wasnt a very largecompetition," she said. "And the ‘Combi class is very new."

Andrea Hill credits the Bridges for Women Society with helpingsupplement her skills in building maintenance and management with computer training.

"Its an employment training program for women with a historyof abuse," she said. "I really wanted computer training and couldnt affordit, but I was eligible as a survivor of abuse. The self-confidence level was incredibleafter Id been there.

"They also teach people about their learning styles. I seem tohave a different way of learning than a lot of people, so it was really helpful for mebecause I discovered what works for me. If Im having trouble, it gives me an optionof trying to re-work how Im learning."

Hill loves to learn. "I believe that Bridges gave me the abilityto dream again," she said.

Her current dream is to gain further her skills in interpretation."Eventually Id like to become a musical interpreter, but thats such along-range goal.

"Musical interpretation is interpreting songs so people get thetrue meaning of it. It would allow me to incorporate body movement ... so its asort of a combination of singing and dancing and working with your body.

"Thats my dream at the moment."